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Project on Government Oversight

POGO Letter to Federal Air Marshal Service (FAMS) Director Robert Bray regarding FAMS treatment of whistleblowers

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November 25, 2008

Robert Bray
Director

Federal Air Marshal Service

c/o Transportation Security Administration

601 12th Street, South

ArlingtonVA22202

 

Via email: Robert.Bray@dhs.gov

 

Dear Director Bray:

 

The Project On Government Oversight (POGO) is an independent nonprofit that investigates and exposes corruption and other misconduct in order to achieve a more effective, accountable, open, and honest federal government.

POGO examined the whistleblower disclosures and whistleblowing reprisal complaints filed by federal air marshals as a case study for our investigation into the U.S. Office of Special Counsel (OSC).  Over the course of our investigation, we found noticeable the number of issues raised by air marshals from 2002 to the present.  Federal air marshals tried to bring forward concerns ranging from mismanagement to security violations, yet suffered retaliation from their supervisors for bringing these issues forward.

We were pleased to read on your November 13, 2008 blog “FAMS Director Comments on USA Today Story,” that Federal Air Marshal Service (FAMS) leadership has been having regular dialogues and formal listening sessions with air marshals.  An email you sent to federal air marshals also expressed a commitment to solving these problems, when you said: “In order to maintain the trust and confidence of our fellow Americans we must dedicate ourselves to root out and report any instance of misconduct or criminal behavior.” However, this is exactly what many federal air marshals did, only to suffer retaliation, loss of job, and in some cases, debilitating illness.

While we believe that the diligence of current and former air marshals to pursue their concerns—despite significant obstacles discouraging them from doing so—has already resulted in many positive changes at FAMS, there remain a number of areas that need work:

Improve Safety, Security, and Anonymity

This includes ensuring the most discreet security screening bypass, boarding process, and seating policies, and that FAMS does not disclose pertinent security information, such as in-flight incident response scenarios used by FAMS, in media and training footage.

Although the current dress and grooming directive has been rewritten with a more common-sense approach so that air marshals are less obviously undercover law enforcement officers, we continue to receive complaints from federal air marshals that managers at certain field offices are ignoring the directive and orally enacting their own policies.  Federal air marshals are told that if they do not dress in a “more professional” way in line with the respective field office Special Agent in Charge’s expectations, they could receive lower appraisal ratings or be passed over for promotion or other career-enhancing opportunities.

Professionalize Human Resources

FAMS should improve the disciplinary process at field offices, through measures like creating a better mechanism to appeal disciplinary action. Currently, a federal air marshal can only appeal his or her disciplinary action to the same official who proposed the action. 

Furthermore, it has come to our attention that if a federal air marshal has used sick leave, it is counted against him or her in pay-for-performance raises and promotions. Ironically, POGOis aware of a number of whistleblowers who spoke out about the scheduling of excessive flight time, which causes air marshals to get sick.  

In the end, no matter how much you encourage the disclosure of mismanagement or misconduct, the history of retaliation at FAMS for speaking out will continue to have a chilling effect. We encourage you to rehire and make whole those federal air marshals who improperly lost their jobs after disclosing incidents of workplace wrongdoing but who still would like to come back and continue to support FAMS’ mission. Additionally, you should hold accountable the supervisors who retaliated against whistleblowers and administer a zero-tolerance policy for whistleblower retaliation across the agency. These would be ways to demonstrate that you will protect dissenting voices, thus encouraging air marshals to come forward with crucial information.

We appreciate your time and consideration of our input. Feel free to contact me or Ingrid Drake for more information.

Sincerely,


Danielle Brian
Executive Director

 

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